The Minimalist Tool Bag

I was lucky growing up as a kid in rural farmland country of Southeast Missouri.  I was raised in a two business family.  My doomsday preppersfather ran a flying crop dusting business, owned several planes and lots of mechanical equipment.  My mom ran her own auto parts store for 32 years.  I became a pretty darn good parts counter “boy” in the day, too, when auto parts were looked up in a huge bank of catalogs not a computer.  I was around aircraft engines, trucks, pumps, fuel systems, all manner of working on things from lawn mowers to radial Pratt & Whitney 600 horsepower engines and the ole V6s in the two GMC trucks we had.

By Dr. John J. Woods, a contributing author to SHTFBlog & Survival Cache

In the parts store I sold everything from mufflers on Cadillac’s to overhaul kits for the 427 Chevrolet weekend race track drivers.  I learned a lot of common sense and a lot of how mechanical things worked.  That experience put me in good stead for life.

Build a Bug In Tool Box

If you are limited in your mechanical skills to even fix simple things yourself, then I encourage you to take a home repair or doomsday preppersauto repair course at the local community college.  Whatever you do, you will need tools.  Those of us that tinker never seem to get enough of them.  Once you acquire some basic skills and a good set of tools, you should quickly learn the payback it will earn you at home being able to fix many things yourself.  Home ownership alone will test all the skills you have from basic carpentry, electricity, plumbing, and everyday repair or adjustment of mechanical systems in the home.  If you have lawn equipment, you can work on that, too.  It all adds up.  But you need tools.

When I graduated from high school in 1968 my mom presented me with a large carry tool box.  Upon opening it, I discovered it was empty, but a great box that I still have by the way.  The real prize was that I could go around the auto parts store and fill my new box with anything I could get into it.

Also Read: 10 Basic Tools For Your Rifle

In those days S&K Wayne Tools were the best mechanic hand tools on the market.  I had a field day filling the box.  I picked out best survival toola dozen screwdrivers, Phillips, and straight edge, three socket sets, ½, 3/8 and ¼-inch drives and some metric sockets, too.  I got a set of open end/box end wrenches up to ¾-inch.  I took several pairs of pliers, Vise-Grips, and a set of Allen wrenches.  I added a good hammer, rubber mallet, and a couple adjustable wrenches.  That got me off to a pretty good start.  Thanks Mom.

I detailed this list to give you a general idea of the kinds of basic working hand tools you should have on hand.  This list can initiate the creation of your Bug In Tool Box.  One you can use often, rely upon and not have to worry about moving around.  You can add to the list as needed and expand your tool box as an on-going project.

Years later, I bought a set of larger standing tool boxes, a lower unit on wheels with a larger box with drawers on top.  After 47 years since high school graduation, I have added quite a few new tools, gadgets, and specialty tools as well.  I won’t detail those because you need to build your own tool set based on your general use needs.  Remember though this home based tool accumulation is for the Bug In scenario and these tools remain at home.  What we all need in addition to this ultimate selection of tools and stuff is a bag of tools to grab or even keep in the primary escape vehicle in case of a SHTF.

The Minimalist Tool Set Up

Now, here comes the hard part.  If you choose to execute a Bug Out prep plan during a SHTF or other event, and part of that survivalistgear list includes a tool box or bag of some kind, then what do you put into it?  Of course, size and especially weight will be a major consideration.  I offer up my design and contents as a list of suggestions.  Please contribute your thoughts, alternatives, and ideas following my article.  That way we can all learn better prepping from each other as a sort of collective SHTF team.  I still have the first tool box my mom got me, but it is metal, fixed in dimensions and rigid with a hinge top and latch over lock up.  There is a lift out tray in the top.  It is hard to pack so I use it in the garage as a back up tote to the yard kind of tool box.

I have found that soft sided tool bags carry better, have lots of pockets and a good one will have a heavy duty zipper top to secure everything inside even if it gets turned upside down.  Mine also has heavy duty cord carry handles that are easy and secure to grab in a rush.  Outside pockets line both sides for small tools or other supplies.  Inside there are two big end pockets and several on both sides of the bag wall.  The “wide mouth” opening makes inside access easy.  Tools that are too long may hang up.

Also Read: 7 Types Of Gear You Need For Your Bug Out Bag

The brand I happened to have found, liked and bought is the BucketBoss Gate Mouth Jr.  At the time I bought this one over ten years ago they offered several sizes.  I use their larger bag for a range bag.  It is constructed of very heavy, stiff canvas and has worn very well in regular use.  I am sure there are many other types like it, so shop around at Tractor Supply, Home Depot, Northern Tools, and quality hardware stores.

It’s What’s Inside That Counts

Now when I include on this minimal tool bag tool list and state screwdrivers or other categories of tools, I am not counting each bug out bagone.  I usually buy Sears Craftsman’s tools in multiple tool sets when they go on sale.  I have several of their screwdriver and wrench sets.  These run from the tiny ones up to a super large hand screwdriver in both standard head types.  These tool sets come in a plastic sleeve to keep them organized.

I have one comprehensive set of screwdrivers and wrenches in my Bug Out minimal bag.  There are two sizes of Vise-Grips, three types of regular pliers including one needlenose, and two larger slip jaw pliers plus one RoboGrip pliers.  There are two 10-inch adjustable wrenches and one 12-inch, a claw hammer, set of Allen wrenches, two slip out blade razor edge box knives, one D-cell flashlight, a roll of black electrical tape, a 25-foot tape measure, a pencil, black marker pen, assortment of pull lock ties, and a bag of mixed nails and screws of various types.

I do not currently have a saw of any type in the bag.  I should probably fix that just in case of a dire emergency.  At my prime Bug Out alternative location I have wood and metal saws available plus other tools stashed away so I don’t transport them back and forth.  I carry this minimal tool bag every time I go to camp and other times when I think I just might need some tools.
So, that’s my SHTF Minimalist Tool Bag.

What else should I include?  What is in your Bug Out tool bag?  Is it manageable?  What has worked and not?  Hopefully if you do not yet have a minimal tool bag to take with you, then you can start building one.

All photos by Dr. John J. Woods

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19 comments… add one
  • Steve suffering in NJ June 4, 2015, 7:38 pm

    I’d add good wratcheting screwdriver set. It should include Philips, standard and torques bits. Hack saw, medium size pipe wrench, medium pry bar, long strait and 90 degree pick, pocket standard screwdriver, 16 oz ball pein hammer, large pair of cutting dikes, mechanics wire, long pair of needle nose pliars, 8-22mm open end wrench set, 1/4 inch 6-13mm sockets 3/8 sockets 8-19mm corrosoonding wratchets, extensions and a swivel adaptor in 1/4 and 3/8. I’d add a good tire plug kit and a 12 volt air compressor. Don’t forget a piece of pipe to add some leverage to the wratchets and a quality pair of pliars. That’s a pretty good mobile automotive kit.

  • gonewiththewind June 4, 2015, 8:01 pm

    I have added a few simple things to my tool bag. Ice cream sticks from popsicles and from the cups. Two different kinds of sticks that can be used to spread stuff or as a spacer and other things. I have a dozen or so golf tees. Great for glung into a screw hole that can either be finished off so it becomes invisible or redrilled for a screw again. Bread bag ties, handy to tie off a bag or to string a few parts together so you don’t lose them. The small flat plastic bread bag closers, about an inch square with a hole and slot in them. They function like a washer or sometimes to hold a part in place after it has been inserted through a hole (a little vague I know but they are suprisingly useful). Rebar ties, soft iron easily bent to tie things together and have the advantage that it can easily be maneuvered with one hand while holding things with the other hand. Additionally you can unwrap the curled up ends to gain an additional 4 inches or so of length. Plumbers tape, awesome stuff with too many uses to list. A handful of different sized drywall or deck screws thrown into the bottom of my tool bag and aother handful of different sized nails too.

    • Henry December 17, 2015, 4:13 pm

      Great Suggestions Steve

  • Doc Montana June 4, 2015, 8:43 pm

    On the other side of the coin, I use a high quality tool bag for a range bag. Tough. Loads of pockets. Gate mouth. Fairly inconspicuous.

    In addition to everything noted above, in my vehicle tool bag I include a prybar and a cold chisel, and electricians tape, duct tape, plumbers tape (metal with holes) and an assortment of bolts with corresponding nuts and washers. Plus wire (both insulated and not), several hose clamps of various sizes, and a few pairs of disposable gloves. And a couple of rags.

    • BamaMan July 14, 2015, 2:34 pm

      I use mine for a tackle box.

      I keep lots of gear at home and make a small box, seasonally loaded, when I go fishing.

  • irishdutchuncle June 5, 2015, 4:08 am

    “CLC” brand tool bag, very similar to the one pictured above.
    at the top of the tools piled inside: an inexpensive DMM.
    (digital multi-meter)
    I try to keep it slightly organized inside, with zippered pouches. my originals came from the beauty section at Woolworths, but I’ve since upgraded to heavy duty pouches from my local Walmart.

    if you don’t have a ratcheting offset screwdriver set, as mentioned above, buy one today. don’t forget a set of “TORX” security style wrenches to go along with your “Allen” set.

    • irishdutchuncle June 5, 2015, 4:29 am

      … one rat tail file, one triangular pattern file. (8inch)

      I keep an “ignition” file, knuckle buster, and a 4 way screwdriver, in my bug… in my “day hike bag”.

    • irishdutchuncle June 6, 2015, 5:17 am

      a claw hammer is only for hitting nails. I keep a separate bag for carpentry stuff, and soon another for plumbing.
      I keep a small ball-peen hammer, and a brass punch in my
      kit, plus a few other assorted steel punches.
      (including a “prick punch”, a more pointy type of centerpunch)
      usually I keep my safety glasses, and a combination square in there too. I keep a 6inch steel rule with 1/100 inch graduation.
      I’m looking for a pencil compass to add in, soon.

      • Anonymous June 6, 2015, 5:48 am

        … and don’t forget a good set of snap ring pliers.

  • irishdutchuncle June 6, 2015, 4:05 pm

    … and if I knew how to read one, I would include a micrometer,
    and/or a vernier caliper. A set of feeler gauges couldn’t hurt either.
    I keep a small, stainless steel wire brush, for coarse cleanup work
    on lugs, battery terminals etc.

  • Anonymous June 6, 2015, 8:01 pm

    I would also include some metal files and tin snips, along with some piano wire. Many basic metal working tools and techniques can be improvised, but files and snips require a lot more skill. Wire I have found hand for everything from snares to wiring a broken exhaust pipe in place until a more permanent repair can be made.

    • irishdutchuncle June 7, 2015, 4:15 am

      a set of “jewlers” files is very good to have…
      fine music wire is good for opening up clogged orifices.

  • irishdutchuncle June 7, 2015, 6:00 am

    I wouldn’t have bought one myself, but my son got me a folding
    “grit” blade saw (as seen on tv) as a gift. Good thing for me, the kid isn’t a tool snob like his father. the thing cuts metal very nicely.

    One of these belongs in your kit, Dr. Woods.

    I think a large C Clamp is very important to have handy. You may not want one in this bag, but should keep one close. it works better, and more quietly than the BFH for many jobs. a pair of 4inch C clamps is also good. I frequently need one more clamp than I have…

    I find lots of hobby type tools have ended up in my tool bag:
    X-Acto’s, a razor saw, pin vises, jewelers files, hand vise, pencil torch, ball end Allen wrenches…

    • irishdutchuncle June 15, 2015, 1:30 am

      … and minimalist, or not, I’d want a butane fueled soldering iron in my kit.
      (I don’t have one I can recommend yet)
      sometimes, one bad solder joint makes the difference whether a piece of gear works great, or it doesn’t work at all. “solder wick” plus liquid ROSIN flux, belong in everyone’s tool kit. a loupe, or a good magnifying glass may help you to find the bad connection.

  • pigpen June 26, 2015, 10:10 pm

    harbor freight has some great deals on inexpensive multi meters that can be left in their packaging until needed for that b.o.b. use. if you find a coupon, you can get one free with purchase, and buy something else where quality isn’t an issue for a once in a while item, like a magnetic parts holder for that b.o.b. Just a thought.

    • irishdutchuncle June 30, 2015, 7:57 am

      that’s where I’d go…

      I would however remove the battery before storing the unit.
      also, the LCD display may not function if it gets extremely cold.

  • uscgalpha91 June 28, 2015, 1:26 pm

    I keep adding tools to the truck and I just got to heavy to carry. I have gone to a smaller bag and only one of each instead of several of the same tool. I like the Box store tool bags for my Glocks. Nothing scream steal me like a Glock logo range bag in the car.

  • BamaMan July 14, 2015, 2:38 pm

    Harbor Freight sells these CHEAP!
    1. Tool bag as described.
    2. Tackle bag for fishing.
    3. Shooting bag.
    4. Truck tool bag.
    5. Boat tool bag.
    Going to Harbor Freight, Dollar Store, or a Sear’s will save you lots and lots on equipping.

    • irishdutchuncle July 14, 2015, 5:51 pm

      some of the Harbor Freight stuff is pretty good,
      BUT, you need to evaluate each piece before you can rely on it, post SHTF. I have a pair of pliers from there, that’s practically useless, because the metal is so soft…
      before I spent the money for the CLC tool bag, I had a “Craftsman” branded one, which fell apart. I still do better buying “experienced” tools at the flea market, yard sales, and garage sales. the DMM’s from HFT, are pretty good. for simple troubleshooting in the field, I think my good meters are better off safe at home.


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